Injuries continue to derail goaltenders with aspirations of going to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard became the latest victim to be sidelined. The American will miss the next 2-4 weeks with a Grade 1 MCL sprain that calls into question his availability for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day and all but ruins his chances of getting his game back in order to impress USA general manager David Poile enough to make the Olympic team.
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford went out last week with a lower-body injury that will keep the Canadian on the sideline for at least another two weeks. Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets will miss games through at least the Christmas break and maybe longer with a groin injury he sustained Dec. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
American goalie Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings (groin) has been sidelined since mid-November, and Finnish netminder Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators (hip infection) hasn't played since Oct. 22.
Others, though, have stepped up and played their way into the Olympic conversation.
Among the Canadians, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo are vying to be the No. 1, but Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding leads all NHL goalies with a 1.49 goals-against-average (minimum 10 starts) and is second with a .939 save percentage.
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been impressive with a League-best 18 wins to go with his 2.01 GAA and .924 save percentage. The odds of Kings goalie Ben Scrivens making the Olympic team are about as long as they can get, but he deserves credit for having a 1.66 GAA and a League-best .941 save percentage.
Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and the injured Quick have to still be considered the top two goalies for the Americans, but Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning leads all U.S. goalies with a .926 save percentage. New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider leads the American contingent with a 1.97 GAA.
Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche is Russia's likely No. 1 goalie; he has a 2.40 GAA and .923 save percentage. He was in line to be Russia's No. 1 before Bobrovsky went down with his injury.
Finnish goalie Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars has played well enough to secure Rinne's spot on the Olympic team with a 2.49 GAA and .919 save percentage. Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks are competing to be Finland's No. 1.
It will be interesting to see how these injuries and the subsequent strong play by the new contenders affects the Olympic rosters. As for the candidates to fill some open slots at other positions for their respective countries, here is this week's Olympic Stock Report of five players on the rise and five who are falling:
Tomas Hertl, Czech Republic (San Jose Sharks)
Hertl leads all rookies with 15 goals and 24 points. He's benefitted from playing regularly with Joe Thornton, but the 20-year-old is a highlight waiting to happen. He had a hot start, slowed a bit, but has picked up his pace lately and has played with some consistency. Hertl is valuable to the Czechs because he can play center or left wing.
Matt Duchene, Canada (Colorado Avalanche)
Center - COL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 24
SOG: 86 | +/-: 5
Duchene got off to a hot start with 20 points in 19 games before he went out with an injury. It took him a while to get going once he returned to the lineup Nov. 27, but he has found his pace again. Duchene had three points in a win over the Winnipeg Jets
on Thursday and leads the Avalanche with 14 goals and 24 points. He's 2-for-2 in shootouts. Picture Duchene on Sidney Crosby
's wing. Canada should like the look of that.
T.J. Oshie, United States (St. Louis Blues)
Oshie is the exact type of depth forward the Americans need to bring to Sochi. He's fast, physical and gritty. He can get in on the forecheck, create havoc, and develop offensive chances off of it. He's usually the one creating for someone else. Oshie has 15 points in his past 14 games and is second behind Patrick Kane among American forwards with 23 assists. He's also 3-for-4 in shootouts.
Patrick Sharp, Canada (Chicago Blackhawks)
Forget about the bubble because Sharp should be a lock for Canada. He has 33 points, tied for sixth among Canadians. He recently had a three-game stretch in which he scored four goals and eight points. Sharp's versatility makes him one of the more valuable forwards Canada has at its disposal. He can play any position, though he seems to be at his best when he's playing left wing.
Blake Wheeler, United States (Winnipeg Jets)
His size and speed would benefit the Americans on the larger ice. Wheeler is still a bubble guy because of the country's depth at right wing, led by Kane, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Callahan and Oshie. However, Wheeler has at least three inches on those guys -- he's 6-foot-5 -- and he has been playing well lately with back-to-back two-goal games and eight points past six games. He could make it as the 13th or 14th forward.
Jason Spezza, Canada (Ottawa Senators)
Spezza felt slighted that he wasn't invited to Canada's orientation camp in August. He was determined to show Canada's decision-makers that they made a mistake. He figured he didn't get the invite because he missed most of last season with a back injury. Spezza, though, hasn't done enough this season to move himself into contention for the Olympic team. He has been particularly cold with no goals in his past 10 games and just three in the past 25 games.
Seth Jones, United States (Nashville Predators)
Defense - NSH
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 10
SOG: 46 | +/-: -10
Jones played a season-low 9:29 against the New York Rangers
last Tuesday. It was only 11 nights after he played a season-high 30:46 against the Philadelphia Flyers
. He then played 11 minutes against the Dallas Stars
and 13:56 against the San Jose Sharks
. His diminished ice time is a sign that Predators coach Barry Trotz
is pulling back to give the rookie some easier matchups. He's destined to be an All-Star and maybe a Norris Trophy candidate too, but Jones doesn't appear ready for a best-on-best tournament yet.
Marc Staal, Canada (New York Rangers)
Staal's stock was falling long before he sustained a concussion Dec. 7 against the Devils. Now his hopes of making the Olympic team are all but gone. Staal was struggling like the rest of the Rangers' defense corps before his injury, but now he's out indefinitely with the second documented concussion of his career. He was struggling to find some consistency in his game before the injury.
Dustin Byfuglien, United States (Winnipeg Jets)
Byfuglien has to be giving David Poile and the staff at USA Hockey fits as they evaluate him. They know the type of dangerous offensive defenseman he can be, but he's too inconsistent in his play away from the puck and his lack of speed could be a liability on the bigger ice surface. He could make it as a specialty guy because of his shot on the power play, but Byfuglien has been quiet of late with no goals in the past 10 games.
Paul Stastny, United States (Colorado Avalanche)
Stastny isn't doing enough to force Poile's hand into taking him to Sochi as the Americans' fifth center behind David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski and Derek Stepan. He's been held off the scoresheet for nine straight games and is a minus-7 in that span. Entering play Sunday he was tied for 21st among American forwards with 17 points.